Article Text

Gender differences in COPD: are women more susceptible to smoking effects than men?
  1. Inga-Cecilie Sørheim1,
  2. Ane Johannessen2,
  3. Amund Gulsvik1,
  4. Per S Bakke3,
  5. Edwin K Silverman4,
  6. Dawn L DeMeo4
  1. 1Institute of Medicine, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
  2. 2Centre for Clinical Research, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  3. 3Department of Thoracic Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  4. 4Channing Laboratory and Pulmonary and Critical Care Division, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dawn L DeMeo, Channing Laboratory, 181 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA; dawn.demeo{at}


Background The number of female smokers developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is rapidly increasing, but whether or not there exists a differential susceptibility by gender remains controversial.

Methods How smoking behaviour and subsequent lung function reduction differed by gender was examined in a study including 954 subjects with COPD and 955 subjects without COPD. The study focused on two subgroups: subjects with COPD <60 years of age (early-onset group, n=316) and subjects with COPD with <20 pack-years of smoking (low exposure group, n=241).

Results In the low exposure group, female subjects with COPD had lower forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) % predicted (48.7% vs 55.8%, p=0.001) and more severe disease (50.4% vs 35.6%, p=0.020, in GOLD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease) stage 3 and 4) than male subjects with COPD. Females also had lower FEV1% predicted (50.6% vs 56.0%, p=0.006) and more severe COPD (41.7% vs 31.1% in GOLD stage 3 and 4, p=0.050) in the early-onset group. Using multivariate regression, female gender was associated with 5.7% lower FEV1% predicted in the low exposure group (p=0.012) and a similar trend was observed in the early-onset group (p=0.057). The number of pack-years was not significantly associated with lung function in female subjects with COPD in this study, and the dose–response relationship between smoking and lung function differed by gender at lower levels of smoking exposure. Interaction analysis suggested that the effect of smoking on lung function might be different by gender (p=0.027 in all subjects with COPD).

Conclusions Female gender was associated with lung function reduction and more severe disease in subjects with COPD with early onset of disease or low smoking exposure. The findings may suggest a gender difference in susceptibility to the lung-damaging effects of cigarette smoking, but alternative explanations should be considered.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • COPD epidemiology
  • gender
  • lung function
  • sex
  • smoking
  • tobacco and the lung

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Supplementary materials

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  • Funding Funding sources for the data collection included The Norwegian Research Council, GlaxoSmithKline and The Foundation for Respiratory Research, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway. DLD was supported by NIH R01 HL089438 and received support from a Clinical Scientist Development Award from the Doris Duke Foundation.

    The funding sources had no role in the data analysis, data interpretation, writing of the report, or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Competing interests I-CS received lecture fees from AstraZeneca in 2008, and a travel grant and a lecture fee from GlaxoSmithKline in 2009. EKS received an honorarium for a talk on COPD genetics in 2006, grant support for two studies of COPD genetics, and consulting fees from GlaxoSmithKline. He also received honoraria in 2007 and 2008 and consulting fees from AstraZeneca. All other authors: none.

  • Ethics approval This case–control study was conducted with the approval of the Regional Committee for Medical Research Ethics (REK Vest), the Norwegian Data Inspectorate and the Norwegian Department of Health.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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